On his fifth day in the witness stand, Richard Wills at last made his way to a mawkish description of the purportedly accidental death of his beloved mistress, Lavinia (Linda) Mariani.
The 50-year-old former Toronto Police officer is pleading not guilty to first-degree murder, and yesterday the jurors finally heard in his own words his explanation of what happened on Feb. 15, 2002.
According to Mr. Wills, Mrs. Mariani had just picked up a little ceramic bear - the last in a series of cheap presents he gave her during what he calls "Valentine's Week" - from the dizzying heights of the first or second stair of the staircase in his house when "she fell backwards, fell on the tile floor," cracked her head and died virtually instantaneously.
"There was blood all around her head, all around," he said. "That's my baby down there!"
As ever belying his claims to be the sort of man who "ponies up" at moments of crisis, Mr. Wills quickly blamed the alleged accident on his former wife, Joanne, about whom he said Mrs. Mariani was then supposedly raging.
"If it wasn't for fucking Joanne," he said, meaning had Mrs. Mariani not been distracted by thoughts of Mrs. Wills and thus allegedly slipped, "it wouldn't have happened."
True to form, Mr. Wills managed to portray himself as the one hardest done by, even given that the great love of his life was ostensibly dead at his feet.
"Her and Joanne hated each other," he said, shaking his long head sorrowfully, "and I was caught in the middle."
Blessedly, he did not add his usual malapropism here, and say "between a hard rock and a hard place."
He took less time - less than five minutes - to detail Mrs. Mariani's demise, far less than he has devoted in his testimony to a great variety of other subjects, many utterly irrelevant to the case at hand.
The combination of Mr. Wills's crude theatrics and the breathtaking narcissism that is his defining characteristic threatened to render farcical even the grisly stuffing, which he admitted, of Mrs. Mariani's body into a garbage bin.
Her liquefied remains were discovered almost four months later in that same bin, which had been hidden behind a false wall near the furnace room of his basement. So decomposed was her body that a pathologist could determine no cause of death, only noting that she had suffered a skull fracture and that a child's skipping rope was knotted three times around her throat.
Purporting to remember Mrs. Mariani's alleged insistence that she be buried at Mr. Wills's Wasaga Beach cottage, he described his protracted efforts to fit her body into the Big 60 garbage container the two of them had allegedly bought together not long before.
As he put it, with what he appeared to believe was bitter irony, "I saw the container we bought, that her and I bought, and she ends up in it."
First, he said, he espied a garbage bag in the nearby laundry room, and decided to put it under her head. Then he went to the garage and returned with a garbage can, but it was too small, so he went back to the garage and got the Big 60. He put the bag over her head, grabbed the skipping rope to tie it shut at the neck, but "when I went to pick her up, everything just, blood started going all over the place." At five-foot-eight and 130 pounds, Mrs. Mariani was awkward to move, he said.
"I tried putting her in forward," he said, "but I lost my grip, and blood went all over the place, the walls, the mirrors, on the top of the Christmas stuff ... The container was moving all over the place, I'm dancing with her. She kept moving in my arms."
Then he turned the Big 60 on its side and put Mrs. Mariani in. "Her head went in first, and I put her hands up and slid her in," he said. "But I had to do what I had to do: She was dead."
After all, as he explained again, "Like a champ, she said she wanted to be with me. I swore to her, just as she swore to me, that my remains would end up at my cottage, her remains were gonna be there, come hell or high water ... We'd be together."
He seemed either unaware of the effect of the ghoulish picture he painted - noting, for instance, that he was out of paper towels to clean up Mrs. Mariani's blood because he hadn't been to Costco for ages and had been meaning to pick up some meat pies -- or uninterested. With Mr. Wills, it is impossible to know whether he simply enjoys being the centre of attention so much that his filibuster in the witness stand is deliberate or whether he simply cannot help himself.
Earlier yesterday, for instance, he insisted through his lawyer Raj Napal that the jurors hear a handful of sexually explicit voice-mail messages left for him by Mrs. Mariani.
Prosecutor Jeff Pearson had stood up to concede that Mrs. Mariani had left the messages, which are undated though Mr. Wills claims to know within a nanosecond when each was left, and told Ontario Superior Court Judge Michelle Fuerst that he was sure Mr. Wills wouldn't want to see his former lover "demeaned and degraded" by having them played.
But Mr. Wills would not be denied.
As he told the jurors, "That's her talking, and that's what she had to say. It's a very unfortunate thing that you need to hear from her. But you can hear from me 'til the cows come home. Once you've heard from her, then you'll begin to believe what I have to say."
A little later, after most of the messages had been played, Mr. Wills said that he knew Mrs. Mariani would "want me to play it [the messages]so you know what the truth is."
Indeed, throughout the playing of the messages, Mr. Wills struck a pose of resigned but dignified suffering. Aside from the deceased's breathy whispers, the only sound was often Mr. Wills' ostentatious blowing of his nose. His gaze was lifted frequently to the ceiling, where it appears he believes Mrs. Mariani now resides.
He even appeared to suggest that she guided him as he drove her car away from his house, part of his clear-headed efforts to conceal her death afterward. "It was like someone was helping me," he said serenely, refraining from adding that she was a champ and, from her vantage point in the garbage bin, surely would have wished him well.